Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2012 sessions adjourned April 11 after a 17-day special session in December, 60 days of regular session and 31 days of special sessions. The Legislature was tasked with balancing a $1 billion shortfall for this supplemental budget year. The final budget which passed was an improvement from the majority party's original proposal, but I believe we still could have done better for taxpayers.
The final budget did not contain any cuts to levy equalization, or critical access hospitals. The people spoke loudly about these things, and the Legislature was forced to listen. I voted “no” on the $31.1 billion budget because it leaves just $319 million in reserves, and most of those reserves are from a one-time accounting change. Last year, the budget had $745 million in reserves when it passed, and within a month, most of those reserves were gone due to a poor economic forecast. The budget also fails to set priorities for how the state spends the dollars which come from hardworking taxpayers.
Despite a weak budget reserve, there are several good things which resulted from Republicans having a seat at the negotiating table this year. I supported several major reforms which will affect the long-term sustainability of the state budget.
- Senate Bill 5940 provides for more transparency and options for teachers on their district's health insurance.
- Senate Bill 6378 reforms our state pension system for new state employees, saving $1.3 billion over 25 years. I have been concerned about our unfunded liabilities in pensions for some time, and this begins to address that challenge.
- Senate Bill 6636 requires the Legislature to pass budgets which balance over a four-year period. This goes into effect next year and will force budget writers to look at how spending will impact future budgets.
- Senate Joint Resolution 8221 would incrementally lower the constitutional debt limit from 9 to 8 percent by 2034. Debt taken on in the capital budget directly affects the operating budget since debt payments are the first check written out of the operating budget. The measure now goes to voters for their approval, since it is a constitutional amendment.
This year, agriculture fared well in the Legislature. Not only did the worst bills not move forward, we made several good steps for this critical industry in our state.
- The B&O tax exemption for food manufacturing was extended until June 30, 2015.
- We made a small but important change to water relinquishment laws. Currently, not using all of a water right can cause land owners to be subject to losing their entire water right. With the passage of House Bill 1381, water rights holders who are waiting in line for a change or transfer request will not be subject to losing their entire water right for “non-use.”
- Any public utility districts bordered by the Columbia River can supply water through pumped storage due to the passage of Senate Bill 6044.
- I am pleased House Bill 2413, which would have severely crippled farmers' ability to spray pesticides and protect their crops, did not have the support to pass the Legislature.
- Several natural resources programs were modified with Senate Bill 6406. Most importantly, agriculture will be exempted from hydraulic project approval (HPA) fees.
- House Bill 2238 will provide another option for offsite mitigation of projects on wetlands. Half of wetland measures are failures, but this bill will provide more accountability for the use of mitigation dollars.
- Eastern Washington can benefit from Western Washington's critters. House Bill 2349, passed by the Legislature, will allow for beavers to be live-trapped and relocated to areas in the state where they can create natural dams to store water and improve stream flows.
Thank you, Klickitat and Skamania counties
It has been an honor to represent the unique Gorge region and Klickitat and Skamania counties. My seatmates and I sent this letter to our constituents in those areas we will no longer represent due to redistricting.
I want to thank those of you who joined myself and Rep. David Taylor for our teleforum last night. We had 411 people on the call at one point during the hour-long conversation. Seventeen people asked questions, ranging from education to efficient government and redistricting to public lands access. Since we were limited by our time, we were unable to get to every question. So if you had a question, or left a voicemail at the end of the call, we will be returning those calls in the days ahead. Here are the results of the poll question we asked:
Due to election-year restrictions, this is the last e-mail I will send from my legislative office until December. However, please feel free to continue to contact my office with questions, concerns, or if you need help navigating state bureaucracy. I hope to see you around the district this summer and fall.
It's an honor to serve as your state representative.